ATLANTA – A
new committee of Georgia judicial leaders will look for ways to restructure the
state’s law libraries to serve a growing number of citizens acting as their own
lawyers, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton announced Wednesday.
law libraries were the place lawyers and judges went to do legal research,”
Melton told a joint session of the Georgia House and Senate during the annual
State of the Judiciary address. “That paradigm has quickly faded, and many law
libraries today sit all but abandoned as monuments to legal tomes, devoid of lawyers.
… Today, just about the only people who go to law libraries are non-lawyers.”
more and more low- and even middle-income Georgians are seeking to represent
themselves in civil cases because they can’t afford a lawyer. The number of
self-represented Georgians has reached more than 1 million, he said.
represent themselves, their unfamiliarity with the law and court procedures
often results in frustration for all involved, rescheduled and protracted
hearings and other inefficiencies that consume valuable state and local
resources,” he said. “Our legal system is an adversarial system; people win and
lose. Citizens who represent themselves more often lose.”
two local programs at different ends of the state for their work to help fill
the knowledge gap for self-represented citizens.
center launched in 2018 by the Dougherty County Law Library is now serving an
average of 40 self-represented litigants a day. The Fulton County Superior
Court will open its Justice Resource Center within a month.
resource centers such as those in Fulton and Dougherty counties have the
potential to embody the new role of Georgia’s law libraries: a place where
citizens will gain greater access to our legal system,” Melton said.
The new task
force on law libraries will be chaired by state Supreme Court Justice Charlie
Bethel and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney.
On other challenges facing the Georgia judiciary,
Melton said he expects recommendations soon from a committee he formed last
fall to identify and mitigate the state judicial system’s vulnerabilities to
Last June, the Georgia Administrative Office of the
Courts was hit by a major ransomware attack that caused some courts to lose
access to electronic records from case files going back 20 years or more.
pledged to support the work of the state’s Behavioral Health Innovation and
Reform Commission, which the General Assembly created last year. The commission
is working to identify how Georgians suffering mental health problems can
become entangled in the criminal justice system.
thanked former Gov. Nathan Deal for spearheading construction of the new
judicial center that bears his name, the first state building in Georgia
history dedicated solely to the judiciary. The building on Capitol Avenue in
downtown Atlanta was dedicated during a ceremony earlier this month.
chief justice praised Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham, who is
retiring at the end of this week after more than 30 years on the high court.
Benham, who received a standing ovation in the House chambers Wednesday, became
the first African-American to sit on the state Supreme Court when then-Gov. Joe
Frank Harris appointed him to the post in 1989.
“We have a lot of good assisted living
facilities in our state. But as always, it seems that the bad guys come along
and they put a spoiler for the good people,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep.
Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta.
The bill passed unanimously out of the
House Health and Human Services Committee, which Cooper chairs, amid concerns
over new rules for training and the costs of extra staffing.
Specifically, Cooper’s bill would require
at least one direct-care staff member for every 15 senior residents during
waking hours, and one for every 20 residents at night.
It would also require a licensed or
registered professional nurse to be on-site at assisted living facilities for a
certain amount of time each week and require all staff to undergo training in
elderly and disabled-adult care.
The bill also includes a slate of rules
to tighten staffing standards and training for memory care centers, which provide
services for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive conditions.
Some lawmakers on the House committee
questioned Tuesday why these types of rules were not already in state law and
whether the Department of Community Health, which oversees senior-care
facilities, needs more funding to better enforce safety and health standards.
“This seems like it should have been
happening a long time ago,” said Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, D-Snellville.
Cooper traced issues with the facilities
in part to the state’s shortage of licensed nurses and the unpredictable impact
on facilities as Georgia’s senior population continues growing.
She also said Gov. Brian Kemp has
committed to adding certification courses for assistant nurse practitioners to
the state-funded HOPE grant program, which covers tuition costs.
“This is a big plus,” Cooper said about
the grant addition.
Still, some lawmakers wondered if the new
staffing requirements would create financial issues for care facilities.
Rep. John LaHood, R-Valdosta, who owns
and operates several senior-living facilities and is a co-sponsor of the bill,
said residents would likely have to foot a bit more of the bill if expenses go
“This will absolutely have to be passed
on to the consumer,” LaHood said. “We were mindful of that and tried to tread
Beyond staffing changes, Cooper’s bill
would require a 60-day advance written notice of impending bankruptcy
proceedings or property evictions, and a 14-day notice prior to ownership
changes that could disrupt living arrangements.
Also, facility administrators would need
to be newly licensed by a state board under the bill. Fines against facilities
would be set at a minimum of $5,000 if a resident dies or is seriously injured.
ATLANTA – Georgians
are divided over whether the Peach State should observe standard time all year
or daylight saving time.
agree Georgia should stop the “spring forward” and “fall back” switching between
the two that takes place twice a year.
Jimmy Pruett, chairman of the State Planning & Community Affairs Committee
in the state House of Representatives, said Tuesday that’s what he hears from
Ciccarelli, director of Legislative Affairs for the Professional Association of
Georgia Educators, said most of the 85 e-mails she has received from teachers
on the issue expressed similar sentiments.
agree the toggling back and forth is bad for students and disruptive for
families,” Ciccarelli told Pruett’s committee.
held a hearing Tuesday on legislation calling for a nonbinding statewide
advisory referendum asking Georgians whether the state should stick with the
current system of switching between standard and daylight time twice a year,
observe standard time all year or go to daylight time all year.
divided opinions exist among the states. Arizona and Hawaii have switched to
standard time permanently, while states including California, Oregon,
Washington, Utah and Maine have opted to observe daylight time all year, said Scott
Yates, a citizen activist from Denver who founded an organization called
most states that have taken up the issue have opted for daylight time, Yates
said the short-term sleep deprivation that occurs when Georgia and other states
switch from standard to daylight time in the spring is unhealthy.
rhythm advocates for permanent standard time,” he said.
Tosini, a neuroscience professor at Morehouse School of Medicine, cited studies
showing an increase in heart attacks, strokes and auto accidents during the
week after the yearly switch from standard to daylight time.
committee did not vote on the bill Tuesday. Pruett suggested it might be a
better idea for the General Assembly to decide the issue rather than hold an
advisory referendum, based on research into the potential impacts of the options.
is pending in the Georgia Senate sponsored by Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah.
Cantrell, R-Woodstock, the sponsor of the House bill calling for a nonbinding
referendum, also is pushing legislation urging the federal government to allow
states to observe daylight saving time all year.
ATLANTA – A Lithonia lawmaker wants to explore financing options to help minority businesses have a fair shot at participating in the Georgia’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry.
Rep. Dar’Shun Kendrick, D-Lithonia, is sponsoring
a resolution that would create a study committee of state lawmakers that would
meet later this year to look at financing low-interest loans for medical
cannabis dispensaries owned by minorities, women and military veterans.
If created, the study committee would
also consider “emerging technologies” including blockchain systems – like
electronic bitcoins – that aim to “reduce or eliminate the handling of cash” in
transactions involving medical cannabis.
The House Special Rules Committee did not
vote on the resolution at its hearing Tuesday.
Low amounts of oil containing the active chemical in marijuana, called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, have been legal since 2015 in Georgia for use in patients diagnosed with certain conditions like terminal cancer, severe Alzheimer’s disease, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder.
But qualifying Georgians had no legal way
to acquire THC oil until last year, when state lawmakers created a commission
to oversee research institutes now allowed to produce cannabis and licenses for
businesses to supply it to state-registered patients.
Last year’s House Bill 324, which created
the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, also requires 20% of all
licenses for cannabis-based businesses to go to minority, women and
Kendrick told members of the committee on
Tuesday that her resolution calls for finding “viable options” to meet that 20%
threshold and make sure “those three groups are able to participate in the
market” for medical marijuana.
Some lawmakers on the committee
questioned what financing options could be available besides funding from the
state, which would eat into an already tight budget as spending cuts are taking
Kendrick pointed to Illinois’s recently
enacted cannabis law that established a social equity program for disadvantaged
business entities to qualify for low-interest loans.
She noted the study committee would
explore options beyond traditional bank lending since the federal government
still outlaws marijuana.
“If there are no viable ways, then
obviously they would not come up with anything,” Kendrick said.
The study committee would have until
December 2020 to produce recommendations if state lawmakers approve Kendrick’s
ATLANTA – The Georgia Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow the state teacher retirement fund to invest in “alternative investments” that critics view as potentially too risky.
The Teachers Retirement System is among the most major
retirement plans that the state manages, along with the Employees’ Retirement
System covering all other government workers besides teachers.
With thousands of beneficiaries, the teacher pension fund
had a net position of nearly $79 billion through the 2019 fiscal year with
roughly 20% in unfunded liability.
Senate Bill 294 would let the teacher pension fund diversify
by up to 5% in alternative investments, which is same percentage available to
other government-backed retirement in Georgia. Those investments could include
venture capital funds, private equity and distressed debt.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ellis Black, said contracted
investors who manage the teacher pension fund have achieved returns above the
national average in recent years but say they could grow the fund more by
having access to other investments.
He dismissed concerns those investments might imperil the
pension fund, noting the track record of the fund’s investors.
“You’ve got a whole spectrum of risk involved,” said Black,
R-Valdosta. “A wise investor is going to have a balanced portfolio.”
Ellis said two-thirds of the teacher pension fund is
currently invested in equities, with the remainder invested in stocks.
Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, also urged
lawmakers to trust in the investing acumen of the retirement fund’s caretakers.
“They have done better than the national average with what
they’ve done,” Hufstetler said. “They also tell us they can do a better job
with more flexibility.”
But concerns arose from several Democratic senators worried
about the risk teachers could face with more volatile investments in their
Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain, said
lawmakers would be unwise to tamper with the pension fund with signs of a
possible economic recession on the horizon. He argued teachers would rather
lawmakers take a conservative approach to managing their retirement money.
“I think the conservative path is to stay the course we
have,” Henson said. “I don’t think now is the time to jump into a riskier
The bill now heads to the Georgia House for consideration.